The Climb of My Life (part one)

In a week’s time, I’m heading to Tanzania to start a 5 day trek up the highest mountain in Africa, and indeed the highest free-standing mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro. At over 5,800m this is no mean feat, but is also something thousands of people attempt and succeed at every year.

My journey began in November when I signed up to do the trek as part of my university’s RAG society, raising money for various charities of which I chose Practical Action. Having the requirement of raising £2,500 for the charity gave the whole trip an extra edge and drive, and similarly the incentive of going on the hike pushed me further in my fundraising efforts. Selling DVDs, appealing to celebrities, putting my pay checks into good use, and having excellent support from family and friends meant the deadline date came and went and I’d hit my target. Now after 7 months of anticipation, all that’s left is to climb that mountain.

I’ve been a climber and hiker for over half my life, and whilst not being particularly adventurous as a child, have discovered the great outdoors as my first and keenest love. Nothing gets me going like fresh air, beautiful vistas, and invigorating walks. Or sea cliffs with heart-stopping drops. Or climbs where my arms are screaming, my sunburnt face is frowning with effort, and my fingertips are a criminal’s dream. The outdoors is where I feel most at home, alive, and myself. So the chance to hike up such an incredible peak was one I couldn’t pass up, but also couldn’t believe I would be attempting.

My preparation for the hike has been, by comparison to other full-time expeditionists, minimal to say the least. I’ve kept up my normal routine of occasional gym (having stopped due to injury and laziness), and climbing several days a week. I’d like to think my general fitness is somewhere just above average, and my knowledge of gear and equipment has risen somewhat during the run up to the trip, so am fairly confident I’ll be considerably more comfortable than first expected. I’ve always enjoyed reading books about adventures, and Michael Crichton’s Travels was recommended to me as having one of the best accounts of climbing Kilimanjaro – needless to say, it put my mind at ease somewhat. Crichton climbed it on a whim, when in Tanzania with a girlfriend. Wearing fairly unsuitable footwear and a fleece, they both managed to struggle their way up. Hardly the easy, sensible ascent I’ll be taking, but nevertheless they were able to make the summit with minimal gear, fitness, or knowledge of what they were about to undertake.

Similarly, Ranulph Fiennes worked his way up as a 60 year old having recently suffered a heart attack, with numerous heart and lung conditions. Dealing with altitude with such conditions in very unwise, and yet he made it up without incident. This is the key – altitude. Some people barely notice, taking in the walk like the tourist track of Snowdon. Others suffer headaches and nausea, whilst others still fall victim to acute symptoms that require a quick retreat and descent back into the thick, oxygen-rich environment of sea level. I’ve no idea how I will fare, but have a bottle of Diamox (which is a debatable topic in itself), and will just hope for the best. One step in front of the other, and five days later I’ll be at the top.

I think the most important part of a trip like this is your mental attitude. If you begin with the knowledge that things might go wrong, you’ll be uncomfortable, tired, irritable, and at times want to just throw in the towel and go home, then you’ll never be disappointed but will probably be pleasantly surprised. If you’re aware of your limitations, your doubts, and your own abilities, you’ll be in a good place to begin and push yourself further, so long as you have the motivation to keep going. For me, I’m doing everything I can to get to the top – I can’t go all that way and call it quits halfway up. So, medical emergencies aside, nothing is going to stop me from reaching that peak, getting my 45minutes of elation, and feel like I deserve a Kilimanjaro beer upon my return.

Well, we shall see. One week today and I’ll be on that plane. Nothing stopping me now – better climb that mountain. Part two will come on my return…

(read post-trek part two here)

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